Balk! Wait, what just happened? The umpire made a gesture towards the pitcher, and the baserunner is now moving up one base. Did the pitcher make an illegal pitch towards the home plate or something, and that was a balk? If so, what exactly is a balk in baseball?
What is a Balk?
A balk (an illegal motion) happens when the pitcher makes a pitching motion or move that deceives the hitter or the baserunner. A balk (dead ball) can be a flinch after being in the set position via a no pitch to throwing towards first base without stepping off the mound. Another way a balk can take place is if a pitcher drops the ball within their windup. Finally, a balk can only occur when a runner is on first base, second base, or third base. There is no penalty for a balk if there is no runner on any base.
What Happens if a Balk Takes Place?
If a balk occurs during an at-bat with a runner on base, the runner automatically moves to the next base. For example, a runner will move from first base to second base if a balk takes place. The same happens if there are two runners on the bases during the balk, all the runners advance one base. That means that a runner, who is on third base, can now come home to score a run.
How often Do Balks Take Place in Major League Baseball?
According to Baseball-Reference data in 2019, 153 balks took place out of 4,858 games. As you can see, balks are not common and only took place once in every 31.75 games. There are 30 Major League Baseball teams in the game, so that would mean every team commits about 5 balks per season out of 162 games.
Can you Argue a Balk?
As a pitcher, you can’t do much besides disagree with an umpire if they call a balk on your performance. However, you better be careful with what you say to that umpire if you disagree with their judgment call. For example, Mark Buehrle got ejected for showing his displeasure with two balk calls from the infamous umpire, Joe West. Below is the video of Jomboy Media explaining the situation in greater detail.
The MLB Balk Rule in Greater Detail
Generally speaking, pitchers can’t feint a throw to an unoccupied base (meaning no fielder) to perform a pickoff attempt since that will result in a balk call. The balk call happens if a ball drops from the pitcher’s hand while on the pitching mound too. Finally, a balk can also occur if the pitcher tries and makes a quick pitch before the batter is ready in the batter’s box. Here are some of the most common rules that Right Hand and Left-Hand pitchers need to remember not to bring in a balk.
For Right-Hand Pitchers
- To attempt a pickoff attempt as a right-handed pitcher, you need to step behind the pitching rubber with your right pivot foot and throw to that base.
- You have to come to a complete stop in your pitching position before you attempt to pickoff a baserunner. For example, you can’t begin in a windup position and then quickly change to a pick off attempt
For Lefty Pitchers
- The right foot of the pitcher must point to where the ball will go wherever they throw. For example, a pitcher must have their right foot towards the first base as they land to throw to the first base. There is technically a 45 angle that is imaginary that your foot can’t cross if you decide to throw to first.
- A pitcher who wants to attempt a quick pickoff move can step off the pitcher rubber with their left foot and fire to first.
Conclusion on What is a Balk
The balk call is one of many baseball rules that players and fans need to be aware of in the rule book. There are many things that pitchers need to remember not to issue a balk. Some include how the pitcher steps, how the pitcher throws, and how the pitcher’s moves can all set off a balk. However, pitchers from High School to Major League Baseball are so accustomed to knowing what to do that their muscle memory comes into play when attempting a pickoff attempt.
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